How to spend a limited digital marketing budget in 2018/19

It’s an important objective imposed on marketers every single year – how best to squeeze every drop out of the annual budget.

Even industry professionals who, on paper, have more cash to splash, are still pressed to make their spend go further. And then there are those less fortunate of course, who have their budgets cut whilst the targets remain as competitive as ever.

So, whichever scenario you find yourself in, if you’re faced with a ‘limited budget’, what should the focus be in 2018/19?

If there isn’t enough money available to delve into every digital marketing channel, where should the priority lie?

The important thing to note is that it is possible to be effective, even when constrained by the purse strings. It all boils down to being clear about objectives and results.


Before any money is spent on digital marketing, it is crucial to ensure the right measurement tools are in place – it’s impossible to optimise what you can’t measure.

So, set up Google Analytics if you haven’t already (and if you have a web partner on board that hasn’t done this for you, start the alarm bells ringing!) If you’re running an ecommerce site, GA should be tracking sales too, and on B2B websites, GA’s events and goals functionality will help to start analysing traffic conversion effectiveness.

It’s not just about Google though. Tools like Hotjar offer great insight into what users are doing on your website, for instance, which will help further down the line.

Start using a CRM

Another important consideration – particularly for marketers within B2B brands – CRM systems don’t have to cost the earth. Zoho is an affordable cloud-based solution for example, which will help establish a lead to sale conversion rate.

In the long run, such a metric helps measure the sales process all the way through the funnel, and therefore the underlying effectiveness of the marketing activity.

Don’t ignore lifetime value

An optional step before unleashing a digital marketing campaign, is to calculate lifetime value (LTV). By calculating what a customer is ‘worth’ over the duration of their relationship with your brand, it is possible to establish a more accurate cost per acquisition – in other words how much you can afford to spend per lead.

There are simple and complicated ways to arrive at such metrics – when time is tight a straightforward LTV is better than nothing.

Starting spending

A marketer can often make the most effective spend decisions when armed with reams of historical data, with which to compare new campaign ‘success’ to. In the absence of this data, it’s important to test channels and see which combinations are, ultimately, the most effective.

But the more limited the budget, the greater the need to be selective during this somewhat iterative process. With that in mind, and based on what is most likely to achieve the best bang for your buck, the following priorities should be given to marketing spend over the next year:

1. Conversion rate optimisation (CRO)

Marketing effectiveness can be assessed in terms of generating more website traffic or converting a greater proportion of existing traffic. Why not start with the latter? Even in the absence of any digital marketing activity whatsoever, a website should attract some visitors, so it makes more commercial sense to try to get more from them.

CRO can be very complicated, but in the interest of keeping things simple, ask yourself: ‘Do we have clear and obvious calls to action (CTAs) on our website?’

Then consider whether you could introduce softer CTAs. For B2B sites, a brochure download will always out-convert a quote request for example – you’re simply generating leads at a different stage of the user journey.

In ecommerce, start with the basics, e.g. do the product pages clearly tell a user all they need to know? More importantly, is it easy to buy?

There are tons of tiny changes you can introduce to make a site work better. Simple things like making buttons look like buttons and shortening contact forms as much as possible. Use session data from systems like Hotjar to review user experience (UX) and ensure results are measured following the implementation of tweaks.

Assuming the website is generating leads or sales at a healthy conversion rate (2% as a rough rule of thumb), then try to secure more traffic.

2. Paid search

From shopping campaigns and re-marketing, to text ads on Google and Bing, there is so much potential with paid search, at virtually any budget level.  There is usually a minimum baseline though – if you can’t afford to send enough traffic to generate a lead or sale, it will be difficult to achieve a return. But that’s where the LTV calculation will help – is it worthwhile bidding up knowing a client is likely to come on board for 12-18 months, for example?

3. Organic

Sometimes people refer to this as ‘free traffic’, which it really isn’t.

People finding you in a search engine do so because you’ve established a good brand or because they searched for something generic and you appeared on page 1. In either case it takes hard work to achieve that presence. So, expect great returns from organic traffic, but equally, be prepared for it to take time.

On a limited budget, do thorough keyword research and prioritise content creation including keyword progress that is achievable in the short to medium term.

4. Paid social

Thanks to the level of retargeting granularity in social channels such as Facebook, there is a lot you can do with paid ads in this space. Consider using an existing marketing database to create a look-a-like audience for example, or target a set demographic if you know precisely who you’re talking to.

In the interests of saving money, be selective in the social channels you home in on, rather than running paid ads across all. This activity will typically generate a lower conversion rate than AdWords, but the cost per lead/sale will probably be less.

5. Email

If you have email contacts at your disposal, use them! This is a fairly cheap way of communicating with lots of people and, with easily-editable templates available from the likes of MailChimp, it’s a quick process too.

In the B2B space, emails are a great way to remind clients and prospects of your brand’s proposition. In ecommerce there are vast options ranging from cart abandonment incentives to other promotional incentives. It’s a fairly cheap way of communicating with lots of customers.

Results will, however, vary upon the integrity of the email database and the quality of the email content.

6. Organic social

This isn’t just about sharing pictures of cute dogs. Good social activity should include thorough content and follower research and planning. Don’t just sell all the time, for instance, as users will better engage with posts that are interesting or offer some value.

Social media is also the platform most likely to require good customer service, as people will readily ask questions and complain if the response is unsatisfactory. There should therefore be a process in place to deal with the more disgruntled of keyboard warriors.

Of course, budget advice is most useful when it is tailored to the specific marketing objectives of the brand concerned. But when money is tight and general insight is required, this hopefully provides some interesting food for thought.

– by Andy McCaul

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